The Ice Crack’d, 1912 by Debbie Walker-Lass

Niagara, 1857 by Frederic Edwin Church
Image courtesy of the National Gallery of Art

Let’s go back to a time forgotten—
Time when all stood still at this reckoning
When the stars spewed light like a string of shiny pearls
Gleaming, coyly placed, half-hidden in a breast
To enkindle the earth with heavenly illumination
And begin Niagara’s immaculate creation
Falling, tumbling river dodging over rock formations
Over and over: an international maritime border
Canada’s pride
America’s daughter

Danger lies in beauty wild and unforgiving
Many years Niagara made a sparkling temptation 
When Honeymooners and brazen lads took the chance
To walk upon the icy bridge made of water
It seemed a game, not risking life in great parlance
The tall, strapping boys built a warm beverage station
Canadian citizens welcomed
Americans as close relations

The menacing sun appeared as a propitious omen,
Settling over that imagined, glassy isthmus
Until a fatal crack shuddered out a warning:
Jagged flaws in the ice were quickly forming
Honeymooners from New York were taking in the sights
The young Quebecians downing cups of hot chocolate 
All looked to one another, faces full of fright
 
Far too late to make preparations
 
Crossing an international border without immigration 
Was a delightful idea with just the right amount of mystery
Until the couple, sharing one last kiss
Before rushing waters pulled them apart, taking their breath
Were noted in the annals of Niagara’s history
By boys turned into men by cheating death.


walker-lass
Debbie Walker-Lass

This poem, inspired by Frederic Edwin Church’s 1857 painting Niagara, was first published in The Ekphrastic ReviewOctober 20, 2023 in their Ekphrastic Challenges series. Read about ekphrastic poetry in Niagara.

Debbie Walker-Lass is a collage artist, poet, and writer living in Decatur, Georgia. Her work has appeared in journals and magazines including Punk Monk, Haiku Poetry, The Light Ekphrastic, The Ekphrastic Journal, Three-Line Poetry, and Natural Awakenings, Atlanta, among others. She was recently nominated to appear in “The Best Short Fiction, 2024” anthology by the editor of  The Ekphrastic Journal, Lorette Luzajic. 

Read about the ice bridge tragedy of 1912

Dedication of “The Miracle and Other Poems” by Virna Sheard

dedication
Frozen Niagara River with the American Falls in the background just before the fatal disaster of February 4, 1912. Image courtesy of Niagara Falls Public Library

TO MY DEAR BROTHER

ELDRIDGE STANTON (JUNIOR)

WHO DIED BRAVELY AT NIAGARA, ON THE AFTERNOON OF

SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 4TH, 1912

No tears for thee, no tears, or sighs,
Or breaking heart —
But smiles, that thou so well that bitter hour
Didst play thy part !


Source: Virna Sheard. The Miracle and Other Poems. Toronto: J.M. Dent & Sons, 1913

A dedication to Eldridge Stanton, Junior, who died alongside his wife, Clara, and Burrell Hecock when the ice bridge across the Niagara River just below Niagara Falls broke up suddenly, leaving them adrift. Read Brian Busby’s account of the tragedy and the dedication in Virna Sheard’s book in his posting “A Dedication Born of Tragedy” in The Dusty Bookcase blog, November 7, 2019.